My Super Ex-Girlfriend

This movie is diverting enough, but somehow never manages to get above the level of merely diverting, in spite of a cute premise and a delightful performance by Uma Thurman. Ivan Reitman directed, and while his Groundhog Day is one of my favorite movies, this one putters along in second gear. The funny moments are spread too thin, and the romantic aspects of the plot are too predictable to elevate this movie above the genre. What I did like was the juxtaposition of superhero abilities onto a person who has a believably unstable personality. Thurman works it for all it’s worth. Yet many of the jokes are geared more toward an adult audience (superheroes have superhuman sexual appetites, apparently), while the premise and goofiness of the rest of the movie feels appropriate for a teen movie.

Clerks II

While I remember enjoying the original Clerks in 1994, I don’t remember much about the movie. I certainly hope that 12 years from now I will remember more about Clerks II, because it has enough shocking moments that failure to remember them would certainly be a sign of mental decline. Some may wish to put some of the images from this movie out of their minds as quickly as possible: Kevin Smith’s latest film is a naughty delight. And I do mean naughty. One scene in particular that involved a donkey had me wondering just how far Smith could go with an R rating. Fans of Smith’s other movies, particularly Chasing Amy and Clerks should thoroughly enjoy this day in the life of two thirty-something schmoes going through a premature mid-life crisis. Rosario Dawson and Trevor Fehrman add welcome notes of sweetness to the occasionally gratingly (but hilarious) foul-mouthed Randal (Jeff Anderson) who is facing life without his fellow clerk and lifetime kindred do-nothing spirit, Dante (Brian O’Halloran). The crisis is such that it even provokes dialogue from Silent Bob. If you don’t know who Silent Bob is, trust me, that’s a big deal. A simple plot that takes place almost entirely during Dante’s last day in New Jersey before moving to Florida to start a new, conventional, married life, and the at-times infuriating behavior of Randal do not stop a vulgar movie from also being funny and even heart-warming.

Let There be Sound in Space

A mainstay of scientific critiques of movies that include space travel is the lament that we hear explosions and the roar of the spaceship’s engines. After all, in space no one can hear you scream, right? Right. But so what? Do we really want the movie to be dead silent when the Death Star annihilates a planet, or when the starship Enterprise goes to warp speed? Or even in a less fantastical science fiction movie like Deep Impact: would the movie really be better if all external shots of the spaceship and the comet were accompanied by silence interrupted only by the radio communications of the astronauts? I say that not only would it be less enjoyable, it would not truly be any more realistic. There may not be sound in space, but there’s also no movie camera. And there’s no orchestra to play the soundtrack. And there’s certainly no male voice choir to sing eerie music en route to Jupiter (which we couldn’t hear anyway because there’s no sound in space) in the timeless 2001: A Space Odyssey.

As members of the movie-watching audience we are participating in the charade that is the movie. How do we hear or see anything in a movie? We have made a contract with the filmmakers to ignore the camera, lights, and microphones that allow us to be shown the action. So, every time you hear the rumble of a spaceship’s engines while you’re seeing the spaceship from the depths of space, you can pretend that you’re hearing those sounds because they are transmitted by radio from microphones planted throughout the ship. It’s no more silly than the ability to see the ship, because while there is light in space, there aren’t many Hollywood movie cameras to let us see it.

There are plenty of potentially damaging (to public perceptions of science and reality) and definitely misleading elements of movies with scientific elements. Sound effects are not among them. Which are worse? You can check these sites for some ideas, or suggest your own.
Sci-Fi Science Blunders
The Intuitor
I think the regular violation of the conservation of momentum in movies and TV shows has contributed to societal misconception about how things move.

Galaxy Quest is not a Spoof

Yes, Galaxy Quest is old news. But this has been bugging me ever since it came out. As much as I enjoyed the movie I was that irritated by it constantly being described as a spoof of Star Trek.

Galaxy Quest is not a spoof of Star Trek, or of anything for that matter. A spoof is a work that imitates another work in an exaggerated fashion for humorous effect. Spaceballs spoofed Star Wars, among other movies, by replacing Darth Vader with Dark Helmet whose dark helmet was comically large, and Jabba the Hutt with Pizza the Hut. Get it? Galaxy Quest is funny not because of the similarities to Star Trek, which are present, but because it puts a bunch of actors on a spaceship and forces them to be the dashing heroes they played in their television show. The ace pilot doesn’t know how to fly the spaceship and can barely get it out of spacedock. Because he’s an actor. Guy panics at the sight of the “red thingy” and the “green thingy” on the screen because he’s some shmuck from Los Angeles who has been transported to an alien spaceship that’s about to get blasted by a giant lobster. It’s funny because of the juxtaposition of our everyday life with a fantasy life transformed into reality, not because there is another corny (though filled with insights on the human condition) science fiction TV show with a rabid fan base.

The only part of Galaxy Quest that comes remotely close to spoofing Star Trek is the science fiction convention scene. Frankly, real Star Trek conventions are more amusing than the Galaxy Quest convention. I speak from experience. The sparkle of Galaxy Quest comes from seeing a bunch of regular 20-th century actors confronted with an absurd situation.

Alan Rickman’s alien bears virtually no resemblance to Spock, and whatever resemblances there are, aren’t funny. (Spock has prosthetic pointy ears, and Rickman’s character has a prosthetic headpiece. It bears no resemblance to Spock’s ears, and actually it’s a pretty good alien make-up job.) If Rickman’s character had 10-inch pointy ears and a permanently raised eyebrow, that would be a spoof of Spock. What makes his character funny is that he’s an actor with some pride in his craft forced to walk around with a piece of rubber glued to his head saying things like “By Grapthar’s hammer, by the sons of Worvan, you shall be avenged,” on a campy TV show and then has to confront the very real existence of a world he has scorned for so long.

Sigourney Weaver’s cheesecake character on the Galaxy Quest TV show repeats whatever the computer says. If a character did that on Star Trek, then that would be spoofing Star Trek. But no one does that on Star Trek. If Sigourney Weaver wore a giant telecommunications insert in her ear, that would be a spoof of Uhura. If there were a medical doctor on Galaxy Quest who regularly announced that someone was dead and repeated that he was a doctor all the time, that would be a spoof of McCoy. If there was an engineer on Galaxy Quest with a thick ethnic accent bemoaning the inevitable destruction of the ship because there’s not enough time, that would be a spoof of Scotty. If there was a race of aliens ridiculously more interested in death with honor than actually living, that would be a spoof of Klingons. But there isn’t.

Weaver’s character’s role on Galaxy Quest is funny because they put a hot woman on the show with no role other than to attract young male viewers, and that’s a spoof of TV in general but not Star Trek (which usually had hot villainous female guest stars). Tony Shaloub’s engineer is funny in Galaxy Quest because he is cool and unphased by his alien surroundings that would totally freak out any normal person (like Guy). It is funny because, as Gwen DeMarco (Weaver) says, “we are actors, not astronauts.” A Star Trek spoof would take place entirely within a fictional universe like the Star Trek universe, but everything would be exaggerated. Someone could probably make a pretty funny spoof of Star Trek. Galaxy Quest is pretty funny, but it’s not a spoof. Geez!

Wordplay

This charming movie looks at the crossword puzzle culture in the United States through the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament held at the Marriott hotel in Stamford Connecticut. For someone like me who can spend the better part of a day working on the Sunday New York Times puzzle (not even the toughest one of the week), it was a bit alarming to see people racing through these puzzles in a matter of minutes. The competition itself reminded me of my days playing the Star Trek Customizable Card Game in several ways. The first similarity is the mere existence of such a tournament, though I admit a crossword puzzle tournament is probably less surprising to most people than a Star Trek Customizable Card Game tournament. Second was the impressive dedication of the top contenders to being scarily good at the game (or puzzle solving). A third similarity is the occasional agonizing mistake ruining a top contender’s chances. The charm of the movie is built on the shared passion of a wide variety of people for something as simple but devilishly complicated as a crossword puzzle. Jon Stewart is hilarious as a New York Times crossword puzzle addict. In one scene, we see Stewart, Bill Clinton, and the Indigo Girls working on the same puzzle, and we sense the thrill of the coded connection between the puzzle author and his victims – er, audience.

Superman Returns

Bryan Singer brings Superman back to the big screen with a shiny new movie that tips its hat to the Christopher Reeve Superman of the seventies. Brandon Routh’s Clark Kent is uncannily reminiscent of Reeve. “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” has been replaced by “Truth, Justice, all that stuff” – a recognition, perhaps, that these days the “American Way” would be regarded by the rest of the world as starting wars and torturing prisoners. The movie has a number of nice set pieces. The opening airplane disaster is gripping in spite of its absurdity. (But what’s the meaning of the remark that only one network is covering the launch of a new sub-orbital commercial space plane? The comment has no function in the movie, so it must be a commentary on something, but I can’t figure out what.) Kevin Spacey brings a nice mix of humor, evil, and egomania to Lex Luthor. Sadly, the script does not give Lex much intelligence. His evil plan is stupid. Destructive, yes, but it’s hard to imagine how it would do him much good, even if it worked out. This lessens the impact of the final third of the movie.

Road to Guantanamo

This was the closest I’ve ever come to leaving a theater in the middle of a film because it was making me physically ill. The film, directed by Michael Winterbottom, depicts the ordeal of three British men captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 and imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for two years. They were released without ever having any charges filed against them. Most likely the only thing they are guilty of is incredibly poor judgment in deciding to enter Afghanistan at the start of the U.S.-led attack on the Taliban government. In addition to the cruel and degrading treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo, the greater affront is that hundreds of people are being held prisoner without being charged with anything, without access to legal counsel, and without many of the rights that we Americans so pride ourselves on guaranteeing. Furthermore, can anyone possibly believe anything that a prisoner utters after years of physical and mental abuse? What sort of person can actually be satisfied that he has captured a real criminal or menace based on a confession coerced by the torment inflicted on these detainess? It serves only to diminish us, both in reality, and in the eyes of the world.

My criticism of the movie is that it is not clear until the end credits how much of the movie is a re-enactment (100%). While some of it is presented in documentary-style interviews, those interviews are with the actors portraying the “Tipton Three” prisoners. The movie would be more effective if the ground rules were explained at the beginning, outlining the sources of the information for what is portrayed and making it clear that it is a re-enactment.

An Inconvenient Truth

If you haven’t already seen it, “An Inconvenient Truth” is a powerful and compelling movie. Everyone should see it. While there is uncertainty about the magnitude of future temperature changes due to increased CO2 in the atmosphere, there is virtually no uncertainty that we are forcing the climate into a new regime. Because our ecosystem has adapted to our current environment, any change is bad news. Climate change of any sort means moving from a system to which all species have adapted to one for which they are not adapted. It took hundreds of millions of years for the biotic Carbon to be stored in fossil fuels that are now being burned to release that Carbon in the form of CO2 back into the atmosphere in only a few centuries. The Carbon cycle is therefore being dramatically perturbed and putting us into uncharted territory. I urge everyone to go to climatecrisis.net and carbonfund.org to see what can be done to sequester some of that Carbon instead of dumping eons of natural Carbon sequestration back into the atmosphere all at once.

Pirates 2: Dead Man’s Chest

I was treated to a pre-screening of “Pirates of the Caribbean 2” last night (actually around 1:30 this morning). Amazingly, I did not feel sleepy during the movie. It has the same goofy charm and tongue-in-cheek humor of the first one, but with decidely more grotesquerie and less romance. There are a number of entertaining set pieces that are so over the top that even the characters in the movie take a break from buckling their swashes to stare in disbelief at what is happening. The ending is a less-than-satisfying set-up for “Pirates 3” next summer, but all-in-all this movie is a lot of fun, and I look forward to seeing it again at a more decent hour.